Thursday, June 13, 2013

Studies in Ruth: Orpah and Ruth - Between Reason and Faith

The book of Ruth recounts a powerful story that illustrates the power of faith. In the first chapter, everybody appears to be quite rationally disposed (after the natural man, psuchicos) in their actions. They act according to visual observation, risk calculation, and wager decisions. Thus, when famine hits the "Promised Land", a godly family goes to Moab, a gentile nation, because the survival possibilities are better there. It was a rational choice. However, they didn't survive though they reached a "greener" territory. It reminds me of the story of Death in Tehran and Jesus' parable of the Rich Man who wanted to build new stores. Reason creates the illusion that one can control one's fate; however, we need to remember that only that which is in God's control is under control; and nothing under God's control can be out of control. If one thinks that the chances to die as a missionary in a hostile country is great, he makes the same mistake. The chances of being persecuted and dying a martyr in America are as greater as dying as a martyr in Asia or the Middle East. But, the rational mind only looks for mathematical certainties; and life offers none of them. Jesus made it clear, "whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." (Mark 8:35). His rule was simple: "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt 6:33).

Both Naomi's husband, Elimelech, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion died in Moab. They escaped from famine only to fall by sickness; but, they fell and human wisdom suffered a severe set back. It reminds of the era of Modernism and Enlightenment when mankind believed that it had finally arrived, that God could be safely banished by science, and that utopia was not far away. However, the two World Wars shook human confidence so hard that the modern world soon gave in to the genre of the absurd, nihilism, and distrust in the absolute. But, there's no point in being bitter and complaining about meaninglessness when the fault has been our own: “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth 1:20-21). Evidently, the more rational we seek to be apart from the faith of God, the more bitter our life becomes.

"When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you." (Psalm 73:21-22)

A heart not protected by faith falls severely to the fiery darts of the Enemy.

Orpah fell in line with the rationalism of the age. She did follow her mother-in-law to a distance and did assert, along with Ruth, that she will follow her to her people (1:10). However, she broke down and relented in face of the rational arguments that Naomi offered. Naomi did her best to prove why there were less prospects for them with her, that their chances of getting married were low, that their patience might break in time, that she had no strength to get husbands for them, and on and on. So, Orpah succumbed to the voice of reason and went back. She did weep and the emotional attachment was strong. However, the voice of human reason prevailed. We don't know if Orpah ever got to get married, or if she did, she got married earlier than Ruth - the history of her faith ceased there. God had nothing interesting to tell us about her anymore.

But, Ruth was different. She was distinct. She refused to listen to the bitter voice of reason. She decided to disregard the negative arguments of reason because they had no appeal for her. She decided to walk by faith and love. She decided to follow Naomi and the true God. Reason (Naomi) tried to show that Moab was positive and the Promised Land was negative. Naomi even tried to persuade by showing a visual example, a testimonial of reason: "Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." However, Ruth only humbly pleaded: "Entreat me not to leave you, [Or to] turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people [shall be] my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, If [anything but] death parts you and me." Volumes can be written just on these few lines; because they encapsulate the history of faith. Ruth wasn't concerned about the things and the prospects that Naomi had been talking about. Her focus was different. She is an example of the person who seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Ruth requested, entreated, to be allowed to go with Naomi. She didn't need motivation. There was no preacher to preach a motivating message there. There was no music to stir the emotions to action. In fact, there was only discouragement all around. There was every worldly reason to not do what she was doing. The only possible person who could be supportive in this instance, Naomi, wanted her to leave. But, her decision was not a decision of worldly reason, but a decision of faith that operates by love (Gal.5:6). That is where Orpah failed and Ruth prevailed. It is faith, not intellectual sharpness, that overcomes the world (1Jn 5:4). The modern world with all its intellectual brightness is only increasingly darker and utterly consumed with moral failure and monstrous evil. The sharpest minds engage in the most brutal and nefarious acts of human wickedness. On the contrary, God uses instruments that the world regards as fools, because the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of men. 

Ruth didn't need to argue or justify her decision. That she was right in God's sight was evident; "faith is the evidence" (Heb. 11:1).

It is interesting that the Bible mentions here that when Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she "stopped speaking to her." The voice of reason fell silent before the determination of faith. When faith resolves to obey the will of God, reason has nothing more to say; it falls silent, because faith cannot be persuaded by arguments or rationalizations; its meat is to do the will of God - God' will is its primary drive.

We know the rest of the story. Ruth helped Naomi find the right perspective in life. Faith brings meaning into life and drives all bitterness of godless reason away. It brings reason into right perspective with God. Later, it was Naomi who would take the lead to tell Ruth the steps she had to take, in accordance to the instructions God had given in the Law. The Bible doesn't downplay reason. However, it is not reason, but faith that creates history; because, only the things that bear the stamp of God's approval will last forever.

Ruth married Boaz, and in their line was born our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Kingdom shall never end. She sought God and God incarnated in her bloodline. The first chapter of the New Testament proudly records her name among the few women who feature in the Genealogy of Jesus Christ.

"By faith we understand the ages to have been prepared by a saying of God..." (Hebrews 11:3, YLT)

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